An orchestra is a large instrumental ensemble that mixes instruments from different families (race, sexuality, financial status), including bowed string instruments such as the violin (men with sing-song high-pitched voices, spewing colours an glitters), viola (less beguiling men), cello (hunks, with packed muscles and chiselled bodies), double bass (daddies with deep voices and fat treasuries), as well as brass (haters), woodwind (whistle blowers) and percussion instruments (life beaters), each grouped in a section.
Music has the power to make you smile, laugh, jump, cry, feel sad or angry. And, under the conduction of the Maestro Chike Frankie Edozien, this orchestra births rhythms that change your mood with every flip of the 340-paged memoir.
With his story at the heart of the orchestration, Chike conducts a beautiful symphony with the lives of friends, acquaintances, family members, lovers, professional, and unprofessional buddies. The piece of art – told in a way that makes you feel Chike is a long-time friend whose life-gist you are catching up on – shows, in black and white, the adventures that comes with living in a homosexual body born and bred on African soil.
Like other great composers and conductors, Chike begins this symphony with a prelude. But the prelude is not calm and cold like any of Mozart’s or Beethoven’s, preparing the audience for a warm evening of beautiful music. Chike’s prelude is loud and hot.
It starts with a duet in a bed in Hotel Moorhouse, Ikoyi, Lagos. The music is of two black bodies dancing into each other, “having furtive, furious sex”. The prelude is a song of beginnings – the genesis. It’s about experiencing orgasm for the first time; about confessing and unconfessing sins; about becoming and understanding.
What is ‘Lives of Great Men’ without its characters? As useless as a night club without music and booze – just pray and go home. To read this memoir is to interact with the characters. At every flip of the page, you are forced to laugh with, smile at, hate on, cry with, gasp at, or side-eye a character. Shall we highlight some of these characters based on the instrument they play in this orchestration?
The Violins and Violas. Paulie, friend of Chike’s since primary school. Both boys “eschewed football and worship motown divas”. Cardi-B and Nicki Minaj boys. Christopher, who Chike met in Uniport, is “discreet, visiting (Chike) only late at night, and when he stays over, slips out very early.” The original undercover brother.
Smiley, who took Chike’s virginity and, in later years, became a pastor. I think pastorship wiped Smiley’s memory, because he talked about homosexuality with disgust and slices of amnesia in an alumni group he and Chike belonged to. There is also the gardener who was gifted to Chike as “someone to play with later”. The gardener exchanges sexual favours for financial gifts, but is not a prostitute.
Cellos and Double Bass. Lawrence’s house is always open for drinks, conversations, and whatever is on the mind. He says, “in his Manhattan home, everyone is welcome, whether or not a wife is about to be shipped over from the continent, or one is being pressured to procreate.” Understanding daddy!
Raphael, the Italian immigrant and head turner, always emanates a smart look in a T-shirt and sneakers with a big white toothy smile. You just can’t help but “bond and begin dating”, like Chike. Etienne: the dapper and enchanting French man who is married to a white Frenchwoman and has a three year old son, but still wants the love of a chocolate popping African prince – or maybe just the experience.
Kosi: the Ghanaian sweet talker with “locally acquired foreign accent”, who, despite claiming to have travelled and seen places, is fascinated by the sidewalks in Cape Town, South Africa. His passport is rather too new – with zero stamps – for a vast traveller like he claims.
The Brass, Woodwind, and Percussion (as I have painted in dim light) will be meshed into one category because they are inconsequential in the overall orchestration of this memoir. The book is written in more celebratory language, unlike what is expected when issues like this are discussed. The expectation is that the mood is dark and there is gloom in the diction. But not this piece, no ma’am.
There is this category only because in the journey to freedom and acceptance, there are undeniable hurdles and challenges, but that is not the theme in this memoir, for there are more tales of partying, wedding, and fucking. The book envisions the celebratory story already enjoyed in first world countries in Africa. The book pulls these beautiful stories from under the rug and, like a fuck you finger, displays them to the faces of denying homophobes who would rather prefer the silent (or non-existent) living of these beautiful and great men.
At a point, I couldn’t help but imagine a world without the colonising white men. They bring everything, pencils and erasers, light and darkness, legislations and litigations, love and hate, faith and ill fate. Like his ancestors, Massachusetts pastor, Scott Lively, a preacher who is “essentially a non-entity in America”, travelled all the way to poison the minds of Africans against their brothers and sons. His evangelical seminar tagged ‘Exposing the Homosexual Agenda’ became a fuel to hate, and begot the “viciously extreme anti-homosexuality bill” dubbed ‘kill the gays’ in Uganda. Back to my imagination, I wonder what a realistic Wakanda Africa would look like without the poisonous hands of colonialism.
The cross is so big that even heterosexual allies are crushed under the shadow of its weight. Like Alagie Jamoh, nephew of Yahya Jamani (Gambian ex-president), whose life was threatened in his own country just for seeing and thinking his friends, human.
With his writing style, Chike takes the reader’s hand under his armpit, and leads them, like a tour guide, into his life: from his preteen days at the Federal Government College, to his days at Uniport; from his first love, through numerous hookups and dates, to the love of his life who he describes as a flawless, sexy and smart Hollywood sweetheart; from his professional struggle as a black journalist with NABJ (National Association of Black Journalists) to his black brothers’ acceptance of him being a member of the NLGJA (National Lesbian and Gay Journalists’ Association); from his small station at city hall covering government and political stories, to his ground breaking exposé that put him on the top board, like the case of Amadou Diallo, who had nineteen bullets buried in his twenty-three-year-old black body by four white NYC police officials.
At the last page of this book, one is filled with hope. Hope for the great men of African descent. Hopes that one day, the violins will play freely without looking over the sheet music for whistle blowers, thereby making beautiful noise in place of good music. Hopes that one day, the flutes will play aloud without fear of inviting snakes and scorpions. Hopes that “one day, even wearing your heart on your sleeves will be met with a shrug. Of indifference.”
John Otroyin is a Nigerian Countertenor. He’s published on: Praxismagonline, AfroAnthologySeries, Nantygreens, KalahariReview, TushStories, and PIN (poets in Nigeria) journal. His piece came fourth for the NHCP short story competition. He holds a certificate of Creative writing specialization from Wesleyan University Connecticut (MOOC). He is an alumnus of Ake Festival’ Creative Writing and SSDA Hotel Flow Workshop. He writes from Lagos on nighttalesng.wordpress.com, and tweets @john_otroyin – same on IG. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.